Monday, March 20, 2006

"Please not the Edison; Please not the Edison..."

You ever use Hotwire?  It's kinda like Priceline, but not.

It offers you discounted rates on flights, hotels, and rental cars -- but you don't know exactly which flight, hotel or rental car you've purchased until you've actually agreed to pay for it.

I don't use hotwire much for flights, because I'm quite particular about exactly when I fly, and telling hotwire "put me on some plane to New York on such-and-such a date" generally isn't specific enough for me to be willing to buy whatever they come up with.

On the other hand, hotwire is a no-brainer for rental cars.  I mean, unless you're totally attached to a car rental company with their loyalty program and bonus points and stuff like that.  But, basically, if I'm going someplace and need a rental car, I don't car which rental car company I'm renting from -- just as long as it's one of the reputable ones and they have a good rate.  Hotwire is all about that.  It says to me, "Hey, we'll give you a rental car on the day you want out of the airport you want for $25" (whereas going directly to the rental car company will cost me $40) and I say "sold."  And only AFTER you pay does it tell you which car company you've just contracted with.

And then there's hotels.  The great big middle ground of Hotwire purchasing.  Suppose you want to go to, say, New York.  You tell Hotwire you'd like a hotel in New York, please.  Now, it won't make you get just ANY hotel in New York.  You can narrow your search by neighborhood and star rating.  But, ultimately, you're likely to end up staring at a screen that is offering you ... well, in this case it was offering me a 3-star hotel in the Theatre District for $122/night. 

And that's all you know.  You can shop the price around (I think hotwire searches are good for an hour) and see if you can meet the price someplace else.  Sometimes there are "customer reviews" on the hotel and you can read them and see if this information can help you suss out the hotel's identity.  You can even compare "amenity lists" to see if you can't get a good idea of what hotel it is (or isn't).  But, ultimately, there comes a time when it's just you and "enter" button -- where you have to agree to pawn up that price and stay at that hotel ... and then you wait and see what hotel it is, and hope it's something you'll be happy with.  It's playing roulette with your travel plans -- you spin the wheel and hope it doesn't come up zero -- but if it's good, you end up with a decent hotel at an impossible price.

I do this a lot.  I know some people (hi mom) think I'm absolutely insane to book a hotel without knowing where I'm going to stay.  To be fair to hotwire (knock wood), they've never given me anything I just Couldn't Deal With.  The hotels I've gotten from them have ranged from "I can live with that" to "Holy COW, that's a good deal."  And I know that, if they even ONCE give me something I CAN'T deal with, it'll be the end of me and hotwire.

But for now, I still remain poised above the "Enter" button, whispering off a quick prayer to the God of Idiots Who Book Travel This Way, and see what I'll get.


mom23nca said...

So what'd you get?

mom23nca said...

So what'd you get?